Friday, May 21, 2010
God, Who is Love, and Who desires love for us, is ever calling us to love Him. He is not satisfied with our lesser affections, however, or a few small devotions. God wishes to have all our love, and to unite us in the love of the Holy Trinity. In His great work of love on earth, Jesus has earned our every affection and has prompted the deepest love in us through the Holy Eucharist. He tells us that as the Father loves Him, so He loves us (John 15:9). Thus we are the recipients of an immense and intimate love as strong as that which binds the Most Holy Trinity! Further, God Himself places in us the capacity to reciprocate this love, and desires that we love Him and each other as He loves. What a magnificent calling!
While Charity is understood to be a virtue, the greatest of virtues, there are many things that can confuse the understanding of it. One of the greatest misunderstandings was addressed by Jesus Himself "Love your enemy, do good to those who hate you..." (Luke 6:27). Charity is not constricted to those we love as friends, but belongs to our enemies as well. While Charity has sometimes been described as love of God alone, the two great commandments given to us by Christ both address Charity and indicate that we must also love our neighbor. So how are we to understand this particular virtue?
Every in simple need of the practical, I am in the habit of making a large distinction between the words "love" and "Charity"; while in definition they may be used interchangeably. Therefore, before I begin to explain some aspects of Charity, I will present my definitions. Love is the natural affection of one person for another. It is the special, friendly affection we have for family, friends, and even Jesus Himself... whoever we naturally prefer to someone else. When Jesus said "What good is it to only love those who love you? Even the pagans do this." (Matthew 5:47) it is my guess that Jesus was referring to the natural impulse of love that every person has. But Charity, on the other hand, is God's love. Even when Charity is in us, and we offer it to God and others, it does not originate in us, but in God. Charity is the love of the Holy Trinity, and the love of the Trinity for mankind. When the Holy Spirit ignites our hearts with Holy Charity, we are prompted to a love of the same nature as that of the Trinity, though of course less in strength. Therefore Charity is always a gift from God.
The title of this post says "universal" Charity... Charity is, by nature, universal. God offers His whole and entire love to every person, as is necessary by the merits of the unity of the Holy Trinity, to which Charity unites us in a way. Charity is first of all love for Christ. It is the whole and undivided love belonging to God alone. But because Christ has given life to humanity, loves us, and gave His own life for us... He has shown that this love for God should be directed also to the children of God--to Christ in them, and for the sake of Christ's love for them. Therefore Charity is not restricted to certain people, nor even people in our own lives, for God knows and loves all people past, present, and future.
Charity is not the emotional feeling, or movement of the heart, known as love. Although love often goes hand in hand with Charity, Charity itself is a decision of the will to love without condition. Because it is not a love that originates in us, or a love that belongs to us, we cannot claim to have Charity unless we first choose to love as God loves. Therefore we choose to love those who God loves, just as we choose to love God, and our love is expressing in prayer, deed, and the development of true human affection. Because of the nature of Charity, one who possesses this virtue has a powerful claim to most other virtues. Further, since Charity is reciprocating the powerful love of God for us, it places us, in a sense, in heaven, in the presence of God; as well as obtaining the presence of God in us. It is no mystery that Charity is called the greatest of virtues!
God's love is infinite, and our perception of His love is like a drop of water into an ocean as immense as all the universe. But through the mystery of our love returned to Him, through the high calling He has give us to be one with Him in love, our small persons can give God a love great enough to satisfy His eternal desire for love. God, great far beyond our imagination, and so good as to far surpass our reality, has called us to a deep union with the Trinity through this wonderful gift of Charity. If we can do nothing else, we can love. If we could never find a way to holiness, we can reach it through love. If we can never approach the great I AM, if we can never come close enough to God to develop even the smallest personal relationship with Him, if we could never set foot into the palaces of His Majesty, we can do all this through love. If God is so great that He is above all things, if God is so great that He remains in the greatest perfection of bliss, if God could never have a need... Love is greater than all this, and for love God would set aside the claim to His kingdom to come and be with us, to lead us by the hand so we may be with Him, and to open the heavenly gates through a sacrifice equal to, indeed an expression of, the infinite and everlasting love of the Blessed Trinity.